Two little girls sitting in suitcases playing with the packed hats and binoculars.

What to Pack for a Family Vacation (and What Not To)

Going on a family vacation can be a great way to make priceless memories with your family. However, the entire process of planning a trip can be slightly overwhelming and incredibly exhausting.

You’ve earned your vacation by the time you’ve sifted through all the details and planned all the logistics. However, you still must pack your bags and ensure no one forgets anything.

So what are the things you need to pack, and what can you leave behind, for your next trip? Let’s look and see!

Two little girls sitting in suitcases playing with the packed hats and binoculars.

How Do I Pack My Family for Vacation?

The key to packing for a family vacation is to pack everything you need and none of the things you don’t. However, anyone who has ever had to pack for multiple people knows that’s easier said than done. With a few family vacations under your belt, you’ll have the whole process down just in time for the kids to graduate high school.

To give yourself the best shot at being effective, create a list of each day you’ll be on vacation and note the activities you’ll be doing on those days. Then, ensure you have only the things you need for those days and activities. The worst thing you can do is toss everything in a suitcase and pray you packed everything.

Packing tips from a family of eight!

Bring the Essentials

The first things you need to pack and organize are any essentials you plan to take with you. These are items you absolutely can’t head out on your adventure without.

These items include medications, travel documents, and even a baby blanket or other comfort items for your kids. Put them in a safe place where they’re easy to access so you can double-check that you have them before hitting the road for your vacation.

Don’t forget items like sunscreen, baby formula, and anything you know you’ll absolutely need on your vacation. Yes, you can purchase these items at your destination, but you’ll likely pay more. It’s worth the storage space to save a few bucks. It also means not having to run out and buy something like sunscreen immediately.

Pack Plenty of Clothes

You want to pack plenty of clothes, but don’t go crazy. It’s okay to wear a shirt or pants twice while on vacation. Just make sure you keep them as clean as possible.

You don’t want to go overkill, especially if you’ll be flying. You may think the 50-pound limit is a lot of weight, but you can quickly reach that limit if you’re not careful. Make sure you have enough of the essentials like socks and underwear.

If you can do laundry while on vacation, this can be extremely helpful in saving space on clothes. Even if you don’t have access to a washer or dryer where you’re staying, a quick trip to a nearby laundry mat can allow you to do multiple loads of laundry as efficiently as possible. You could likely do several days’ worth of clothes for your entire family in an hour or so. 

A neatly packed suitcase laying open with a travel checklist resting on top.

Remember Hair and Hygiene Products

Don’t forget to grab those haircare and hygiene products! Just because you’re going on vacation doesn’t mean you can neglect taking care of your hair or hygiene.

If you’re worried about space, you may be able to find some travel-sized versions of your favorite hair products. Ladies, even if you don’t plan to be on your period, it’s a good idea to pack a couple of feminine hygiene products just for emergencies.

Grab Some Children’s Carry-On or Car Ride Items

If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll need some things to keep them entertained. We’re big fans of non-electronic items like coloring books as they don’t require internet or charging.

It may be worth taking a trip to your local dollar store to stock up on a handful of cheap toys specifically for the trip. These may not last long, but they’ll be worth their weight in gold if they help you keep your kids entertained while traveling.

If you do plan to travel with electronics, make sure you charge them ahead of time. You don’t want to hit the road for your trip and discover the device is at 7% battery.

You also want to pack any charging cables or accessories you’ll need to use them. If they make noise, ensure you bring a set of headphones to listen to them.

Eliminate Items That Aren’t Practical

As we said earlier, you want to avoid bringing anything that’s not necessary. You may want a pair of shoes to match every outfit, but they’re usually heavy and take up a tremendous amount of space. It’s simply not practical.

Depending on your vehicle, bringing multiple bicycles or kayaks for the adventure may not be practical or even possible. To successfully pack for a family vacation, you must consider how often an item will get used and if it’s worth the space required to bring it.

Use Packing Cubes

One of the best ways to maximize your space is to use packing cubes. These cubes help maximize your suitcase and luggage space while staying organized. You can use a cube to store all your family’s clothes for a particular day of the week

It makes it easy when you arrive at your destination, and everyone wants to throw on their pajamas and relax. Simply pull out the packing cube that contains all of the PJs and start relaxing! These packing aids can help make your packing easier and more efficient.

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What Should You Not Bring to a Vacation?

We can’t state it enough, if you don’t need to bring it with you, then don’t bring it with you. This is especially true regarding valuable items like laptops, tablets, and other electronics.

Planning to disconnect from work or the outside world while on vacation? Leave all of your gadgets at home. This will help avoid any chances of them being stolen or damaged during your vacation, and you won’t have to worry about fighting the temptation to check those work emails in your inbox.

Another item you shouldn’t bring with you is a hair dryer. Even the most budget-friendly hotels typically have a hair dryer. Will it be as fancy as the one you have at home? Likely not. However, it’ll get the job done.

If you’re planning to fly, make sure you avoid bringing anything that’s not allowed. TSA limits what you can and can’t bring on the plane. If you come through with one of the prohibited items, you’ll likely have to either toss it in the trash or head back to the check-in counter to make arrangements for the prohibited item.

Is It Better to Roll or Lay Flat When Packing? 

Typically, rolling your clothes will save a tremendous amount of space. This works best on t-shirts and other lighter items. Not only does rolling your clothes save space, but it also helps reduce the number of wrinkles you’ll experience when you unpack these items.

However, not all items are best rolled. Thicker items like jeans and dress pants typically use less space when you fold them and allow them to lay flat.

What Can You Not Carry in Your Carry-On?

If it’s been a while since you’ve flown in an airplane, it’s important to know that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has made some major changes over the years to what you can and can’t bring in your carry-on baggage. Some items have a complete ban from carry-on bags, while others may limit the size or quantity you can bring.

A mother and daughter sending their carryon luggage through airport security.

Many passengers forget about the 3.4 oz limit on liquids. This includes bottled water, lotions, and most other liquids. If you arrive at the security checkpoint, they’ll likely force you to dispose of them. Because of the variety of prohibited items and the many special instructions, it’s best to check the TSA’s list of items before your family vacation.

What Are the Most Common Items People Forget While Packing for Family Vacation? 

You don’t want to forget anything important while on vacation. Some of the most common items people forget while packing for their family vacation include underwear, warm clothing, toiletries, contacts/solution, chargers, a swimsuit, and even an umbrella. Make sure you check the weather ahead of time and plan accordingly.

It’s a good idea to list everything you need to bring on the trip. It may seem silly to include items like socks and underwear. But it won’t seem silly if you arrive at your destination and discover you don’t have them. They’re likely not the souvenir you want to buy to remember your trip.

Are You Ready to Pack for a Family Vacation? 

The key to successfully packing for your trip is to start early. The sooner you can start packing, the less likely you are to forget or overlook something.

You may need time to shift things around and evaluate what you’re bringing and what you’re leaving at home. Giving yourself plenty of time allows you to avoid “stress packing,” which usually guarantees you’ll forget something important, bring too much stuff, or both.

So take these tips we’ve shared with you today into consideration when packing for your next family vacation!

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